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Veronique Peck's sense of fun

August 22, 2012|By Patt Morrison
  • Veronique Peck attends the ceremony for the release of the Gregory Peck stamp held at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills.
Veronique Peck attends the ceremony for the release of the Gregory Peck… (Michael Buckner / Getty…)

It stands to reason that Gregory Peck would have been in love with his beautiful, charming and gallant wife, Veronique.

For just about anyone else who knew her, it also stands to reason that we were in love with her too. Her admirers fell by the besotted scores, from a Whole Foods manager she befriended to the sachems of L.A.'s charities and whole constellations of film stars.

Veronique was a wholly marvelous and admirable woman, and someone I loved as my friend.

Even those who had never met her had much to admire about her: Her deeply thoughtful and humane charity work spanned the $50 million she and Greg raised for the American Cancer Society decades ago, an inner-city repertory theater in South Los Angeles, to the Los Angeles public library system, and the hugely popular Gregory Peck reading series at the Central Library, an event to which she did not just lend her name and Greg's, but her presence -- there she was, in the audience, hanging on every word.

Veronique didn't just put her name to an undertaking, she put her shoulder to it, and made sure that it happened. The "arts supporter" descriptor in many of her obituaries would have pleased her.

In 2010, we all celebrated the issuing of a Gregory Peck stamp, and just this year, in April -- which would have been Greg's 96th birthday -- the Peck family celebrated the 50th anniversary of  the seminal film "To Kill a Mockingbird" in the White House screening room with the Obamas. The popcorn, I heard later, was very good.

To Greg, she was the passionately devoted wife of nearly 50 years. To her wonderful children, Cecilia Peck Voll, the filmmaker, and Tony Peck, the producer and writer, she was their extraordinary mother, and grandmother to three delightful children. To Dr. Cornelius Passani, she was the affectionate sister. For all of those causes and charities, she was patron and benefactor.

To me, she was a girlfriend -- an authentic girlfriend who was just so damned much fun to be with.

Veronique could smile like the Mona Lisa and giggle like a schoolgirl, when the moment struck her.

At a friend's birthday party a couple of years ago, after a jolly dinner, the dance floor was opened for business -- and suddenly, there was Veronique, dancing in the flashes of the disco ball. How could anyone else remain a wallflower when Veronique was out there cutting a rug on the dance floor -- in high heels?

She had been a journalist in her young years in France. That's how she met Greg, interviewing him for France Soir, and so she knew exactly what my work entailed and would let me know what she thought of this column or that blog post.

She was thoughtful in ways nobody else would have been. Her parties were marvelous, not in the flashy see-and-be-seen fashion of society and Hollywood galas, but sympa, to use the French shorthand -- cozy, genial, as if her extended family had all come by.

If there was someone there you didn’t know, Vero made sure you would before the evening’s end. She had a knack for that kind of matchmaking; she evidently figured, if she liked us, we would obviously like one another, right?

She had been anxious for me to meet a French friend of hers, and in late July, it happened. I emailed her from Paris with a report about the great lunch I had with her friend, one that she had made possible. How could I have suspected that my next email encounter with that friend was to share our mourning?

Vero’s 80th birthday dinner in February was a gift from her children, and a gift to her friends. And two months later came the 50th anniversary screening in Beverly Hills of "Mockingbird," a movie that is as close to perfection as anything ever put on film, just as the novel by Harper Lee, the Pecks' family friend, is the closest thing to a perfect novel ever put on paper.

Veronique posed for photographers, answered questions about the film and saw to it that her guests were comfortable and settled before the program began. And she did it, again, in high heels.

In Vero the girlfriend, I think friends like her much-loved pal and poker partner Angie Dickinson saw the qualities that Gregory Peck fell in love with nearly 60 years ago. She was impish, witty, the most perfect listener, and intuitive and thoughtful.

At some party a few years ago, I admired a pair of earrings she was wearing. "Fake," she said cheerfully, and the next time I saw her, she gave me a pair just like them.

And when she found out I was studying French, she gave me a clever little book of French language usage, a reprint of the one she had read as a student in her native France.

It was her sense of mischief, as much as her "sympa" self, that was so endearing and enchanting. If something ridiculous or silly happened -- some political betise we’d just seen on TV, or someone’s odd remark -- she would catch my eye with a twinkle and spark in her opalescent ones, a look as effervescent as the champagne she served up to her friends. Can you believe that? her glance said.

She was, simply, irresistible.

Back in April, "Mockingbird" was reissued in a handsome new edition, with copies of pages from Greg's annotated script and, on the last page, those four deathless qualities he ascribed to Atticus Finch:  fairness, courage, stubbornness, love.

The woman the world knew as Mrs. Gregory Peck possessed all of those, and more, and I will miss, truly miss, every one of them in the package that was Veronique.

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